Working smarter, not harder, is key to effective management
By Bill de Decker
We have all known them — managers who always complain that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. Some even seem to think the only solution is to put a cot in their office! And we also know the other type — the ones that get everything done in an eight-hour day and have time for family, hobbies, and relaxation. You would think that the first group would be the more effective managers, but, usually, they are not. So what's the difference? It is simple. The latter group knows how to manage their time.
The working life
As workers, whether in an office or a hangar, we don't have to worry too much about managing our time because it is managed for us. When we are handed our assignments, we normally also are told how much time we have to accomplish the task. If that is not enough time, we might ask for more time. And, if it is too much time, we might also say something. Once the assignment is started, all we have to do is pace ourselves to meet the assigned deadline. In addition, there are not very many memos, meetings, calls, and e-mails that interrupt our work.
Once you are a manager, it is a very different story. There is no one to tell you what assignment to work on. Others expect you to tell them what to work on, and, as if that wasn't bad enough, there are also constant interruptions and other demands on your time.
The only solution is to learn to manage your time. There are many time-tested techniques for accomplishing this, and we'll use the rest of this column to talk about three of them: Delegation, Minimizing Meetings, and Prioritizing Tasks.
Delegation is the single most effective technique for creating more time for yourself. For example, think of a job that will take you two days. If you delegate the job, you will only spend perhaps one quarter of that time to provide the necessary explanations, support, and assistance. And when the person to whom you assigned that job does another one, you may only spend a few hours. Of course, many new managers will feel that there is no one to assign the task to, since no one will do the job as well or fast or inexpensively as they can. That may well be true, but that is not the point of being a manager. Any management book that you pick up will tell you that the tasks of a manager are to plan, organize, direct, and control the tasks assigned to the department. Peter Drucker, the great management guru, put it another way when he pointed out that the primary task of a manager is to get and keep customers. So delegation is not only good time management, it is also a prerequisite for doing what a manager is supposed to do.
How do you delegate? Well, the first step is to pick a person and tell him or her that you would like them to do a particular job. Next, give them the required information with respect to the what, where, when, why, and how. Then stand back and keep track of their progress. Assist when help is needed, and praise when the job is done well. The first time, it will probably not go as smoothly as you would like, but the next time it will be better and so on. For example, the first time that you delegate a job that would have taken you two days, it might take half a day of your time and three days for the person to whom you assigned the job. There are two ways to look at this: The first is to bemoan the waste of taking three and a half days for something that would have taken you two days. The other is to cheer the fact that you have reduced your involvement from two days to one half day. That frees up one and a half days of your time for getting customers!
The typical corporate meeting involves lots of people, goes on too long, and is largely unproductive. Usually, the same results could have been obtained with a much smaller group and shorter meeting or, often, without any meeting at all. That does not mean that meetings don't have their place in getting things done, but it does mean that they need to be held only if other means, such as e-mail, telephone calls, and one-on-one discussions, cannot be used to achieve the desired objectives. It also means that any meeting must be tightly controlled.
Controlling meetings starts with having a clearly defined agenda that is circulated to all concerned well before the start of the meeting. Distribute any material that will be used to support the meeting well before and certainly no later than the start of the meeting.
Next, put someone in charge of the meeting. It can be you or it can be one of your people. Their task is to stick to the agenda, reach conclusions and assign follow-up action items. Chairing the meeting also, very importantly, includes turning off any extraneous subjects and discussion.
Then invite only those who need to be there and hold it in your office or a small conference room. If there is no room to sit down, the hangers-on will disappear fast. Start the meeting on time and announce when the meeting will end. During the meeting, record any conclusions or results and assign follow-up action items with a due date to specific individuals.
Lastly, distribute a memo or e-mail outlining the results of the meeting and follow up with the individuals who were assigned action items. If you take this approach for all meetings held in your department, you will be amazed at how few meetings you need and how productive they are. You will also be amazed at how much time you save.
Another way to deal with the demands for your time is to prioritize what you have to do. At the beginning of the day or the week, make a list of all the things you are supposed to do that day or that week. Next, rank them from most important to least important. You can do this by putting a "1" next to the most important item, a "2" beside to the next most important item, etc. Then get to work on No. 1. When that is done, go to No. 2, to No. 3, and so on. At the end of the day or week, you probably will not have finished all the items on the list. What is left over from the first day or week gets put on the next day's or week's list. But don't put it high on the new list, unless it has truly become important. Instead, rank it in the context of the new jobs that have come up. One of the interesting things you will find when you do this is that there are a large number of jobs that never make it out of the bottom half of the list. In other words, they never were very important and had you done them, it would have been a waste of your time.
There are many other ways of managing your time and they all have one thing in common. They recognize that there are only eight or nine hours in the workday, and if you don't manage that time well, you'll never have time to do what managers are paid to do - get and keep customers.